A Launch to Remember (Part 5)

Friday at 1:30p.m.: We went to the STS-134 crew walkout! Woohoo, we saw all the astronauts in their orange launch suits!

We have lots to say about the crew, even though, as we rode the bus back to the Press Center, we heard news that the launch was scrubbed until at least Monday. We are unfortunately familiar with this news, as a result of our experience last November. As you might expect, this news isn’t slowing us down. We have a few one-on-one interviews scheduled, and we want to share some info about the six-man crew of STS-134.

Mark Kelly

STS-134 is all men this time. Mark Kelly, the husband of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is the mission’s commander. We’ve written about him before HERE and HERE. He’s flown three previous shuttle missions—two on Discovery and one on Endeavour—and logged 38 days in space.

Greg Johnson is the pilot for STS-134 and was the pilot on a mission in 2008. Andrew Fuestal is one of the mission specialists, was on the shuttle’s last servicing mission to the Hubble telescope, and will be doing several EVAs, or extravehicular activity spacewalks. Greg Chamitoff is another mission specialist and previously served on the International Space Station (ISS). Roberto Vittori is the Italian on board this mission and has flown to the ISS twice before.

Greg Johnson

Our favorite astronaut on this mission, though, is Mike Fincke. His early education and career did not foretell great success. In an interview that aired on NASA-TV, Fincke admitted that his grades were not always stellar, and he’d known a C or two along the way. Even worse, he washed out of pilot training. Even worse than that, the day he washed out of pilot training was his birthday.

He attributes his ultimate success as an astronaut, in part, to five years of studying Latin. He said that made learning Russian much easier, and learning Russian allowed him to travel to the ISS and also become qualified to fly as a left-seat flight engineer on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. And he speaks Japanese fluently too.

Mike Fincke

Fincke’s enthusiasm is obvious and often punctuated with a grin that exudes childlike glee. This guy never gave up. When he washed out of flight training, someone suggested he think about engineering, so he gave that a whirl. He was ambitious, but more than that, he’s not easily daunted.

What’s especially interesting is that, upon completion of STS-134, Mike Fincke will hold the American record for number of days in space, as a result of his two stints on the ISS. He shrugs at the milestone, pointing out that Russians have well surpassed the hours in space he’s logged. The interesting part of his American record, though, is that Fincke has never before flown on the space shuttle and will be listed as the last-ever shuttle astronaut. While Roberto Vittori hasn’t flown a space shuttle mission yet either, their mission specialist designations place Mike Fincke behind Vittori, and all the STS-135 crew have flown shuttle missions before.

Roberto Vittori

That’s just the kind of who’d-have-thought serendipity story that Lofty Ambitions likes: the guy who washes out of flight school ends up holding the American record for time in space and gets listed as the last space shuttle astronaut ever.

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